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Pressure piles on Robin Newton to leave Stormont speaker's office

Robin Newton is facing calls to vacate the speaker's office

ROBIN Newton's role as Stormont speaker looks increasingly untenable following calls for him to resign and severe criticism of his recent conduct when chairing assembly debates.

Sinn Féin yesterday voiced its dissatisfaction with the East Belfast MLA, saying he had "undermined the impartiality and integrity" of the speaker's office. Notably, however, the DUP's partners in government did not call for Mr Newton to step down.

But Stormont's opposition parties were unequivocal in their calls for the speaker to go.

Ulster Unionist lead UUP leader Mike Nesbitt wrote to Mr Newton on Tuesday asking him to stand down.

The Strangford MLA's letter said the speaker's decisions had "risked undermining the joint nature of the Executive Office".

"I regret to say you have lost the confidence of the Ulster Unionist Party," Mr Nesbitt wrote.

"On that basis, may I respectfully urge you to use the break to reflect on whether you are best placed to lead the assembly in 2017."

Mr Newton – whose position is supposed to transcend party political affiliations – faced unprecedented criticism from fellow assembly members on Monday ahead of a statement on the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) by Arlene Foster.

What Arlene Foster told the Irish News about RHI in October, 2016:

He was repeatedly asked to specify under which assembly rules the special sitting was being held, after Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness withdrew support for the DUP leader's statement.

The speaker has faced criticism in recent weeks over his handling of questions relating to the Charter NI funding controversy.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood a series of recent decisions by the speaker had "impugned his judgment, his integrity and his character"

"This week’s events follow months of poor decisions which have left confidence in and the authority of the speaker in tatters," he said.

"His clear conflict of interest in ruling against legitimate public interest questions on funding for Charter NI did serious damage to his position – these latest events have made that position untenable."

Sinn Féin chief whip Carál Ní Chuilín has also written to the speaker and said Mr Newton has "undermined his impartiality and the integrity" of his office.

"The proceedings in the Assembly on Monday were a shambles – the DUP ended up in the chamber speaking to themselves," the North Belfast MLA said.

Ms Ní Chuilín his conduct had further undermined public confidence in the devolved institutions, however, she did not call for him to step aside.

An Alliance spokesman said: "We have had a number of concerns over the impartiality of the assembly speaker over the past number of months.

"He needs to reflect on this situation and determine whether he thinks he is capable of carrying out the functions of his role."

An assembly spokesman said Mr Newton would be writing to Mr Nesbitt but would making no further comment.

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